Monday, April 24, 2017

Cleaning and Rinsing Your Spray Equipment

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

Spray equipment plays an important part in crop production.  I want to give you a few practical suggestions this week about how to keep your spray equipment in good working order and at the same time, protect your crops from harmful spray residue from improper sprayer maintenance.
Before you begin cleaning your sprayer, be sure to review the label of the pesticides that you’ve applied.  The label will tell you how to properly dispose of residual product, provide any special cleaning instructions, recommend decontaminating products and outline the personal protective equipment you need to clean your sprayer.

The goal of rinsing is to remove any concentrated areas of the product that might still be in or on the sprayer.  Cleaning spray equipment involves circulating water through the whole system and then applying it to a site that is listed on the pesticide label.  Several rinses using up to 10% of the spray tank capacity are better than merely filling the tank once with clean water.  Select a location where the rinsate will not contaminate habitat or create hazards to humans or animals.  Preferably, the area should be impervious to water and have a wash rack or cement apron.  If you don’t have anything such as that, please be responsible with where the rinsate goes, such as a site where the products are to be used originally.  Along those same lines, when draining the tank, don’t just open the valves and let it pour onto the ground.  However, you can add larger volume nozzle tips for a faster and legal method to dispose of sprayer rinsate.

The outside of the sprayer should be washed too.  For this purpose, applicators are encouraged to have a source of water on the sprayer to rinse down the sprayer in the field on a regular basis.  Again, when rinsing the sprayer, do not create hazards that might negatively affect wildlife or humans.
To learn more about sprayer cleaning contact your local county Extension office for the MontGuide titled, “Maintenance, Cleaning and Storage of Ground Sprayers.”

Ticks on Companion Animals

Last weekend, we pulled two ticks off of our hired man’s dog. After the dog snuggled with me, of course! So I thought this would be a great time to talk about ticks with information from our MontGuide Ticks on Companion Animals.
The four species of ticks that are frequently found on companion animals are the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, the American Dog Tick, The brown dog tick, and the winter tick. The wood tick and the winter tick are found throughout the state and thrive in stream and river corridors, sagebrush flats and grassy meadows. The American Dog tick is found in wooded areas, abandoned fields with medium height grasses and shrubs and open areas between wetlands and woods. The brown dog tick is found in kennels, sheds, or barns where dogs are housed.
Ticks are active from April through August and They find their hosts by detecting odors, heat, or vibrations from an animal. When the ticks are on the host, they use serrated mouth parts to puncture and attach the skin. When feeding, the body weight of a female tick can increase up to 100 times its normal weight.
I have heard of many ways people remove ticks but the extension recommended method is to grasp the tick with fine tipped tweezers as close to the surface of the skin as possible and pull upward using slow, steady, even, pressure until the tick is dislodged. If you are too hasty in removing the tick, you may break off the mouth parts and can further inflame, infect, or irritate the wound.  Be careful not to squeeze or puncture the ticks body because the fluids may contain infections organisms. Don’t forget to disinfect the bite wound with iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Ticks can be prevented with topical treatments, shampoos, or plastic collars with the pesticide embedded. Prevention method preference is up to the pet owner.

Please be sure to keep you and your pets safe from ticks into the spring and summer!

By Kim Suta
Toole County Extension

Customer Service - Customer types

Wendy Wedum, Pondera County
Originally broadcast March 31, 2017
Continuing the thread about the importance of providing Customer Service training for your employees.  I related a real life example I had calling a business and the person answering the phone for the business only said “hello” making me wonder if I had actually called the right place.  Having a standard greeting when the phone is answered not only lets people know they have called the right place, but is also free advertising and helps people remember your business. 
Now, let’s kick up the level of service and make it a memorable experience for the customer.  After all, if they remember what a good purchasing experience they had with you, they will remember your name and probably share that information with friends and family.
Just yesterday I was talking with our MSU Extension Community Development Specialist, Paul Lachapelle, about workforce health and customer service issues.  An idea we shared is that many people are not given training in how to communicate with others.  Some people have a natural talent when dealing with people, but everyone can learn. Businesses that provide employee training on communications, interacting with and supporting customers prepares the employees to be comfortable when dealing with most situations that come up and may improve employee retention.  
This week I am going to start a series on the different types of customers.  Most customers usually fall into 4-5 different types of shoppers.  They are the Loyal customer, Bargain Hunter, Impulse Buyer, Need-based Buyer and the Browser.  This may change depending on what the buyer needs or their intention for shopping. Let’s start by taking a look at the Loyal Customer.
Loyal Customers are about 20% of the customer base but make up more than 50% of the sales.  Because of their loyalty, communicating with these customers on a regular basis by mail, email, newspaper and radio ads are important. The loyal customers are the ones who may influence the businesses buying and merchandising decisions. Loyal customer feel appreciated when asked about their ideas and needs because it shows them how much you value their input. Many times, the more you do for them, the more they will recommend you to others.  This improves your bottom line.
Training your employees how to identify the different types of buyers may lead to more satisfied shoppers and that grows your business.  Keeping more money circulating in the community and benefiting other businesses, employees and families.  Next week we’ll continue to look at different types of shoppers.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future ideas on customer service, please call me at the Pondera County Extension office at 271-4054.  Or email me at 

Customer Service - Employee Training

Wendy Wedum, Pondera County
Originally broadcast March 10, 2017
Last time, I started a series on Customer Service.  I started talking about employee support because they are the frontline of your business.  Based on a survey of Conrad Chamber members, business owners are the first person a customer sees only 25% of the time.  That mean that three quarters of the time the first person a customer sees in a business is an employee.  It is important to prepare your employees to represent you and set the tone for your business.
Training has several advantages for your business including:   choosing the skills to meet the needs of your business, better customer service, better work safety practices and productivity.
You show your workforce that you value them enough to invest in them which improves loyalty and staff retention.
Whether your employees are new or experienced, training can improve business performance, profit and staff morale. They acquire new skills, which increases their contribution to the business and it builds their self-confidence.
Providing the training during work time, shows that you value them enough to invest in them.  Usually businesses see an increase in following quality standards, ability to do a greater variety of work, improved productivity and customer satisfaction.  Training may reduce inefficient use of time and materials, workplace incidents, staff turnover and absenteeism, which also lowers the cost to hire new employees.
Providing employee training prepares them to manage a variety of situations and may free up time for business owners to work on manage their needs of their business.  When you show the quality standards you expect for your business employees will meet or exceed your expectations.  When employees learn how to do new skills it lets them take on a greater variety of work.
One of the skills that is often overlooked is using the phone.  Yet, it can be an important tool for businesses.  Many people were never taught how to answer the phone properly.  Most simply do what they see other people do.
How your phone is answered sets the tone for the type of business you run, potential for customer service
 For example, do you and your employees use the same greeting every time the phone is answered?  When answering the phone it is important to identify your business and yourself.  This way the person calling knows they have dialed the correct number and now the name of the person with whom they are speaking.
Here’s an example using a fake business called Logan’s Diesel Repair.  When I have call and the person answers with, “Hello”.  Then I’m wondering did I call the right place while looking for my glasses to make sure I dialed the right phone number and collecting my thoughts to ask is this Logan’s Diesel Repair?.   If the person who answered the phone used a simple greeting such as “Hello, Logan’s Diesel Repair this is Wendy”.  The person calling knows right away if they have made the correct call.  It also tells me about the level of professionalism because each time employees answer the phone with “Logan’s Diesel Repair” that’s free advertising that only takes a moment to do.
I encourage you to check how your business phone is answered and see if that is one small improvement that can be made right away.  If you have any questions or suggestions for future ideas on customer service, please call me at the Pondera County Extension office at 271-4054.

Customer Service - it matters!

Wendy Wedum, Pondera County
Originally broadcast on February 17, 2017.
Lately, I have been doing mini-workshops with the Conrad Chamber of Commerce on Customer Service.  I asked the Chamber members to complete a survey about customer service training, challenges and issues facing businesses in Conrad.  The survey showed customer service training ranged from no training up to 1 hour per week. The Center for Rural America describes small businesses as the backbone of rural communities.  Small businesses provide local jobs, goods and services that save residents a lot time and expense to avoid traveling to urban centers.  However, a customer who has a bad experience may look for another place to do their business.  In the long run, this could make or break a business.
If you are a business owner, you are probably aware of how important customer service is.  Today customers have many options where they choose to spend their money for goods and services and small businesses have had to adjust to global competition.  Providing quality customer service is an important part of a successful business.
In a business, there are a few layers of relationships between people who can be seen as customers.  The business owner, manager, and employees are also customers to each other.  Here it has to do with the work environment, setting expectations, and job duties.  Communications, listening and feedback are just as important as preparing your employees who serve the customers in your business. 
So, first I’ll start with employee support.  Your employees are the frontline of your business.  They are usually the first person a customer sees when entering your business.  When a customer enters your business, are employees easy to identify?  A name tag or a dress code helps local and visiting customers know who to ask questions. How have you prepared your employees to answer phone calls, explain the products or services offered, or how to find items?  Have you trained your employees how to deal with a customer complaint? 
Over the next several weeks, I will be addressing these issues and more during my radio program.  Until the next time, I challenge you to think about the customer service you offer and needs you may have.  I also invite you to share your ideas with me, it may help someone else.
If you want more information, feel free to contact me at Pondera County Extension.  Our phone number here is 271-4054

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

It only makes ‘Cents’ to skip crabgrass control products in Montana

Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier county

Recently I heard an ad advertising crabgrass control for lawn grass.  Crabgrass is one of the most infamous annual weeds in lawns, but it’s rarely found in Montana.  Quackgrass, however, IS commonly found in Montana, and is often confused with crabgrass.  Quackgrass is a coarse-bladed grass that grows in clumps and crowds out desirable grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass.  There are some key differences between these two weedy grass species which is why crabgrass control methods do not work for controlling quackgrass. 

Crabgrass is an annual weed that is relatively easy to control with crabgrass controlling products.
Quackgrass is a common grassy, perennial weed in Montana,
that is often confused with crabgrass.
Photo courtesy of University of Missouri Extension.
Quackgrass, however, is a perennial weed that is more challenging to control.  Clients often wonder why a crabgrass control product is not working and the reason is, the weed is likely quackgrass, not crabgrass.  2,4-D containing products, such as Weed-B-Gone or Weed-N-Feed, are not effective at controlling quackgrass either, as 2,4-D is for controlling broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions, not for controlling grassy weeds like quackgrass.  Quackgrass requires the use of a non-selective herbicide, such as Roundup. 

The recommended control for quackgrass is glyphosate, or more commonly known as Roundup, which moves down into the plant and kills the plant’s root system, which is critical for perennial weeds such as quackgrass.  Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill any plant it touches.  Therefore, if applying glyphosate to quackgrass, be very careful to avoid damaging surrounding grass, shrubs, or trees.  To ensure the glyphosate is applied only to the quackgrass, wear rubber gloves and apply the glyphosate directly to the quackgrass with a sponge or paintbrush.  If there’s a large patch of quackgrass present, be prepared to reseed the patch to a desirable grass species within 10 to 14 days after glyphosate treatment.  Always read and follow label directions when applying glyphosate, or any herbicide. 

If you have any questions regarding identification of grassy lawn weeds or control of quackgrass, be sure to contact your local MSU Extension office and visit this Montana resource

Photo from University of Missouri Extension,  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ascochyta Blight

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension Agent

Whether you are in the field yet or not, if you are planting pulses this spring, I have some information to share with you about pulse diseases, specifically, Ascochyta blight.
Ascochyta blight is a foliar fungal disease in pulse crops, with strains being host specific.  For example, the strain that affects peas will not affect lentils or chickpeas.  Lesions from Ascochyta in chickpeas are circular or oblong and may begin as small, light-colored specks on the leaf which expand into target-shaped lesions.  Under moist conditions, each wave of the lesion is surrounded by a brown or black halo.  These can occur on stems, petioles and pods in chickpeas.  Lesions on peas tend to be more restricted and the target pattern less obvious.  Lesions on lentils are a lighter brown with a dark brown halo, but also often lack the target pattern.  Lesions on plant tissue can cause defoliation, stem breakage and lodging. 

Management of Ascochyta blight begins at planting.  This is a residue-borne disease, hence one of the reasons for the recommendation from Extension and insurance companies that you wait 3-4 years between the same legume crop.  The pathogen can be seed-borne at high levels.  M.S.U. Extension recommends 0% seed-borne infection for Ascochyta in chickpeas and below 5% for peas and lentils. 
Ascochyta can also blow in as spores from other pulse growing areas.  Environmental conditions favoring disease development include cool temperatures between 59 to 77° F and high humidity.  The decision to spray foliar fungicide will depend on the crop and variety, the timing of the infection, the percent of plants infected and the severity of the infection.  Many foliar fungicides are effective against Ascochyta blight.  Fungicides should be applied at bloom initiation or canopy closure, or when the first symptoms are seen.  Additional applications may be necessary, but please pay attention to label restrictions and rotate fungicides to prevent the development of resistance to certain chemical classes.

For further inquiries about Ascochyta blight or other pulse diseases, contact your local county Extension office for a copy of the publication titled, “Diseases of Cool Season Legumes.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How well is your water well?

Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County

I encourage farmers and gardeners to test their soil before applying fertilizer, I encourage livestock producers to test their hay for a nutrient analysis before feeding, and today, I’d like to encourage rural residents to consider testing their water, whether it be for human or livestock use.

There is a vast number of people and resources monitoring municipal water supplies to ensure that the water meets drinking water quality standards.  For the private well water user, however, it is up to them to monitor the well water quality and ensure it meets drinking quality standards. 

The MSU Extension Well Educated program provides well owner education as it relates to health and
MSU Extension offers free water test kits through the local offices,
stop by and pick yours up to test well water, livestock water, or
irrigation water.  Photo by Kari Lewis.
quality of life.  Through the Well Educated program, free water collection bottles are available at your local Extension office that can then be sent to a Montana lab for analysis.  A few of the common questions I receive related to this program are, “What should I test for?” and, “How much does it cost?”

What you should test for depends upon what the water will be used for.  If the water you’re testing will be used for drinking water and hasn’t been tested in recent years, then a basic domestic analysis that measures alkalinity, bacteria, nitrate, pH, and total dissolved solids, is a good choice and is only $35.   A basic annual analysis is the minimum test that all private well owners should complete each year.  The basic analysis measures bacteria and nitrates, and is a good tool to track water quality through time, and is only $20. 

Farmers and ranchers should also consider testing their livestock drinking water and irrigation water.  The ‘Suitability of Water for Livestock’ test is $50, and can help identify any parameters which could deter livestock from drinking water and potentially cause health issues or lower livestock performance.  Over ten years ago, we identified numerous water sources on my family’s ranch that are high in sulfates.  This is a concern because sulfur reduces the copper availability in cows which then compromises their immune system and reduces their performance.  Because we tested our cow’s water quality and identified the high sulfur water, we have been able to use chelated minerals to overcome this issue, but we would have never known that was an issue without testing our water.

Another reason to test livestock water is to know if there is nitrate present.  If livestock are consuming feeds that contain nitrates (such as grain hay), and are also drinking water that contains nitrates, the cumulative effect can reduce livestock performance and cause abortions. 

Water quality can frequently change from year to year depending on runoff, drought, and other conditions.  Therefore, I encourage you to stop by your local Extension office and pick up a free water testing kit to collect a water sample from your home well, livestock water, or and/or irrigation water.  Water samples should be collected and shipped the same day, Monday through Wednesday, and results are typically available within two weeks.  

For more information on the Well Educated program, please visit and contact your local MSU Extension office for details.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pulse Crop Questions?

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension Agent

2016 may have been the international year of pulse crops but around here it seems that 2017 is the big year for pulses.  There have been several workshops around the area over the past several months, both Extension related and private industry.  I wanted to share with everyone an e-mail I sent out to producers last week that covers some questions I have been receiving.

First, is there a need for a seed treatment?  The answer would be a resounding YES.  Please do this to help prevent diseases now and in the future, if nothing else for our market in the Golden Triangle.  Seed treatments are recommended on all pulse crops to protect against both seed borne and soil borne fungi.  Pulse crops are susceptible to many soil-borne fungi including Pythium, Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, and Aphanomyces.  Seed borne fungi, such as Ascochyta, Botrytis, Sclerotinia are also a risk.  Producers should always use a seed treatment as a best management practice to avoid pathogen buildup in the soil.  Use products with mixed modes of action to target the different types of fungi that are present in seed and soil.  It is important to rotate fungicide classes, or modes of action to avoid the development of fungicide resistance.  This includes seed treatment applications as well as foliar applications. 
Regarding ascochyta blight, how is it spread?  Ascochyta blight is the most problematic foliar disease of pulse crops. The causal agent is host specific, Ascochyta pisi causes blight on peas; Ascochyta rabiei affects Chickpea and Ascochyta lentis attacks lentil.  The pathogen can overwinter in fields on crop residue for several years and in the spring the sexual spores produced from the stubble can be dispersed by the wind for up to 5 miles.

When talking about fungicides, what is the difference between those fungicides ending with -strobins and -zoles?  Strobins tend to be used for more preventative measures while -zoles are more curative, or after a problem occurs, although there is a small window of preventative as well.
Can a producer get away with applying at less than the recommended rates of any pesticide?  Yes, you could, but are you really willing to wager that?  Please apply at the recommended rates.

Do seed cleaners clean the diseases off?  No, that’s another important reason to use seed treatments. 

Lastly, are there recommendations for soil temperatures at which to plant pulses?  Yes, 40°F is the recommendation for peas and lentils while it is 45° for Desi chickpeas and 50° for Kabuli chickpeas.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Alfalfa Weevil

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension Agent

Alfalfa weevil is the key insect pest of alfalfa, causing variable levels of economic damage across Montana each growing season.  After mating, the female weevils lay their eggs in alfalfa stems, and newly emerged larvae crawl up to the developing terminal buds where they chew small “pin” holes in the leaves.  The larvae develop through four stages; the larger 3rd and 4th stage larvae feed openly on unfurled leaves and cause the largest economic loss.  Severe feeding damage will give the field a “frosted” appearance.  Mature larvae develop into the next generation of adults that leave the alfalfa field to find overwintering sites.  In Montana there is one generation per year.  The majority of crop damage occurs prior to the first cutting as a result of feeding by larger larvae.  Management decisions are based on surveying the number of weevils to determine if their population will exceed the economic threshold, the point that warrants action to be taken.
Alfalfa weevil sampling should begin in the spring when the stand is about 8 to 10 inches tall.  Weevil populations can be estimated using sweep nets or by shaking alfalfa plants in a bucket.  An average of 20 alfalfa weevil larvae per sweep meets the economic threshold for action.  Ten sweeps are taken at each of 3-5 five sites in a field or 30-50 sweeps per field and the total number of weevil larvae is counted to determine the average per sweep.  An alternative is to cut 10 stems from each of 3-5 different sites in a field or 30-50 stems per field and shake the stems into a bucket to collect the larvae.  An average of 1.5 – 2.0 larvae per stem meets the economic threshold for action.  To get an accurate average more samples are required for larger fields.  A minimum of three samples are recommended for fields up to 20 acres, four samples for fields up to 30 acres and five samples for larger fields.  Based on historical weather data, sampling for alfalfa weevil in Montana typically begins between May 24 and June 16, depending on the location and the seasonal weather.

When the economic threshold has been met, action is required to preserve yield.  If stand growth is sufficient, early harvesting is the most effective and economic action.  If early harvesting is not an option, then an insecticide can be used to reduce weevil populations below economically damaging levels.  Additional management information including insecticide options is listed online in the High plains IPM guide: